By Dawn Harris Sherling, M.D., F.A.C.P.
Lately, I’ve been spending a great deal of time thinking about food. Essentially, this is because that’s what I do every day, but also because Thanksgiving is approaching. Most of what we know about Thanksgiving is apocryphal. The only thing we can count on as being true is that there was eating. And probably giving thanks. Which actually makes it a pretty good holiday.
While we have plenty to be thankful for, now seems like a good time to be especially grateful for food.
First off, if you didn’t make it yourself, someone else sure as heck did. Thanks to the restaurant workers spending hours behind a hot stove and the servers spending just as many hours running around. And now we have the delivery folks to extend thanks to. These men and women have become the newest addition to front line, essential workers. And thanks to the home cooks (usually the moms, but also some dads) who toil without much in the way of gratitude for most of the year. They might be working for free, but their time is worth something—a lot actually.
Thinking about what to make in the coming week and making sure the ingredients are on hand, requires a great deal of mental energy and also time—let’s estimate this at about ten minutes per dinner per day. If we consider the fact that the clean-up involved in a home-cooked meal is often fifteen minutes or more, the dinner that our handy recipe said would take only 20-25 minutes to make, is now pushing up against an hour. Including time spent planning, time spent cooking, and then the clean-up, what’s the real cost of all this? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage of a worker in the U.S. was around $27 in 2019. That means, on average, we value fifteen minutes of an American worker’s time at around $7. If ingredients to prepare a meal at home cost a family $15, but the time required to plan, shop for, make, and clean up the meal takes an hour, the meal really just cost about $42, but was free for you (if you weren’t the one who just fed everyone).
The second group people to thank are the people who grow, harvest, and transport our food. About a year ago, my husband and I decided to plant a garden. Since we are Floridians, we also got a couple of citrus trees, a banana tree, and a mango tree. To date, we have successfully harvested about 2.5 lemons (one had a bad spot that needed to be cut out so we lost a half), a few bunches of green beans, and about five servings of broccoli. The herbs did okay until it got hot. Now we just have rosemary and okra. And we still can’t get the kids to eat the okra. It turns out that growing stuff is hard. Other things want to eat what you are growing, the plants get sick, and weeds can seem unstoppable. If it were up to me to grow food for my family, I don’t think we’d make it. And yet, I can go to the supermarket and pretty much get whatever produce or meat I want. It took a veritable army of people to get that food there, most of whom work for very little pay. They have now also become essential workers who deserve abundant thanks and probably a raise.
The other people we have to thank are the ones that fed us from the time we were too small to even ask properly. And whether by bottle or breast, feeding babies is hard work. Newborns want to be fed every two hours, which can pretty much feel like constantly. Bottles need to be cleaned and formula is expensive. And contrary to popular opinion, breast feeding is only free if the one who is doing the feeding’s time is worth nothing. Many mothers spend hours directly feeding or expressing milk to be fed to their babies. At $27 an hour? Let’s just say that this coming Mother’s Day, you owe mom. Big time.
So, while your Thanksgiving gathering may be a bit smaller this year or include a few Zoom or Facetime guests, it doesn’t have to be less meaningful. Give thanks, and if you can, maybe slip the delivery guy an extra twenty.